- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he is willing to allow consideration of Republican amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill, a concession that removes a primary obstacle that killed the bill earlier this month.

“We’re willing to work through these amendments,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters yesterday. “If they want to have these votes, we’ll have the votes.”

Republicans said they welcomed Mr. Reid’s change of heart, while Democrats cautioned that other obstacles remain.

“What part of ‘yes’ doesn’t he understand,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, who has offered several amendments that Democrats refused to allow to be considered. “That is exactly the position that I and others interested in immigration reform took three weeks ago. We could have had a bill voted out of the Senate three weeks ago today if he hadn’t been the one who obstructed votes on amendments on the floor.”

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said later that while his boss is flexible about amendments, he remains opposed to allowing the legislation to be bogged down by too many. Mr. Reid and Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee say they are still negotiating over precisely how many amendments will be considered.

But other serious opposition remains. Democrats want assurances from Republican leaders that if they sign onto an immigration bill in the Senate, it won’t get drastically changed in negotiations between the Senate and the House, which approved a bill last year that is dramatically tougher than the one now under consideration in the Senate.

The concern by Mr. Reid and other Democrats is that House Republicans, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, will remove provisions of the Senate bill they deem to be amnesty so all that is left are provisions providing for tougher border security.

“We know what legislation we have in the House. We know what the leaders in the House have said about our legislation in the Senate. They don’t like it,” Mr. Reid said. “We have to be protected in conference, and we will be.”

Mr. Cornyn said he doesn’t blame Democrats for wanting to negotiate “just one time,” as opposed to negotiating at each step in the legislative process, but “that’s just not how the process works,” he said.

One of the amendments Mr. Cornyn offered that Democrats oppose would bar from U.S. citizenship any illegal alien who has been convicted of a felony or three misdemeanors or has refused a court order to leave the country.

Democrats have said that such an amendment “guts” the legislation.

Mr. Reid said yesterday he’s confident that the amendments would be defeated on the floor.

“We feel justice will prevail,” he said. “We feel these so-called killer amendments will lose because they are not in the spirit of what this legislation is all about.”

Mr. Cornyn welcomed the challenge but wondered why the amendments had become such a sticking point.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever,” he said. “If he thought he could defeat the amendments, why not have a vote? We could have done that three weeks ago, but he’s refused.”

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